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Andy Perkins, the grandson of Professor Llewellyn and Ruth Perkins, presented the Perkins Award for Excellence in Teaching to Molly Costanza-Robinson.

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Perkins Award Honors Molly Costanza-Robinson

May 8, 2019

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury College has awarded the 2019 Perkins Award for Excellence in Teaching to Molly Costanza-Robinson, a professor of chemistry, biochemistry, and environmental studies who has been a member of the faculty since 2005.

According to one of the students who nominated her for the Perkins Award, Costanza-Robinson “cares deeply about her students, her subject matter, and about forming close-knit communities in both the chemistry and environmental studies departments.” She is credited as one of the faculty members at Middlebury who helps “bridge the gap” between the natural sciences and the program in environmental studies.

The College conducted an award ceremony and reception in Costanza-Robinson’s honor on May 6, 2019, in McCardell Bicentennial Hall at which Professor of Geology and Director of Sciences Pat Manley spoke about the recipient’s teaching and learning.

Manley quoted Costanza-Robinson as saying that her doctoral work at the University of Arizona was "spread across the colleges of letters, sciences, engineering, and agriculture," and that her lab group "integrated the fields of environmental chemistry, engineering, microbiology, and hydrology to study the fate and transport of chemicals and contamination in soils and groundwater.”

Costanza-Robinson’s graduate studies were her “first taste of truly interdisciplinary science” and it has framed how she thinks about asking and addressing environmental issues today, Manley observed. One of the professor’s current projects (and one in which she collaborates with Middlebury undergraduates) is her testing for the presence of lead in the drinking water in the Addison Central School District.

It is a project, Costanza-Robinson has said, “that lies at the intersection of my personal and professional worlds as [both] a parent and an environmental chemist who teaches and conducts research related to environmental pollution and environmental health.”

A student speaker at the award ceremony, Emma Wilcox ’19, said her respect and appreciation for Costanza-Robinson as a teacher and researcher is immeasurable. “What makes her classes stand out for me is how much she brings her own research into the classroom, like measuring the amount of lead in the drinking water of the local schools,” said Wilcox, who joined Costanza-Robinson’s research lab as a sophomore. “She has helped me grow as a scientist and as a person.”

In her own remarks at the awards ceremony, Costanza-Robinson thanked her students for “pushing me to merge their dedication to science with their career goals and their commitment to social and environmental justice.” She also thanked her faculty colleagues in both the sciences and environmental studies for their encouragement and support, and she thanked her family for, among other things, understanding that scientific research “sometimes has to play fast and loose with the normal workday.” Her husband, Carl, and her two children, Lia and Tyler, were in attendance at the event.

Created in 1993, the Perkins Award is provided by the Professor Llewellyn R. Perkins and Dr. Ruth M. H. Perkins Memorial Research Fund, and it was made possible by a gift from Ruth Perkins, Middlebury Class of 1932, in memory of her husband, Llewellyn, who taught at Middlebury from 1914 through 1941.

Their children, Marion Perkins Harris ’57, a science teacher, and David Perkins, a physician, augmented the fund and expanded the scope of the award to honor their mother, Ruth, as well as their father. The award supports the recipient’s faculty development. It is presented in even-numbered years to a member of the mathematics or computer science department, and in odd-numbered years (such as this year) to a faculty member who teaches in the natural sciences.